Steppin’ On Up

After three years at the Cabrillo Pavilion Arts Center, the Santa Barbara Dance Alliance’s Dancers Ball is moving to the Montecito Country Club for this Friday’s event. Executive director Julie McLeod remembers exactly when that decision was made.

“It was well into the evening last year when a gentleman – one of the more experienced dancers – came up to me and asked if I could make an announcement,” McLeod recalled over the telephone last week. “He said that dancers who wanted to travel [progress around the dance] kept running into those who were staying in one place.”

The man wanted McLeod to remind dancers that traveling should be counterclockwise and stationary dancers should move to the middle to give them room.

“I looked out at the dance floor and I said ‘Move where? They’re already packed like sardines.’ That’s when I knew we had to find a bigger place.”

Blame (or credit) the smash TV hit “Dancing with the Stars” or perhaps the SBDA’s own success in promoting all sorts of ways of moving to the music in town. Whatever the cause, partner dancing is growing in popularity in Santa Barbara, and the Dancers Ball – in which exhibition ballroom, Latin, and swing dancers join everyone else on the floor in open public dancing – is reaping the rewards.

The event is an annual benefit for scholarships for young dancers, one of the primary causes of the Dance Alliance, which hands out dozens of grants every year in addition to sponsoring annual events such as “On The Verge” Teen Choreographers’ Showcase at Marjorie Luke, BASSH at the Lobero, and the Festival of Dance, Art & Music (formerly Multicultural Festival) at Oak Park.

The promoters briefly considered simply bringing in a bigger dance floor to the original facility, McLeod said. But that would have severely cut back room for tables, a problem considering that the Ball includes a buffet dinner.

Plus, the event tries to accommodate all.

“It’s not just for non-stop dancers,” McLeod said. “It’s perfectly fine to sit and watch, although don’t be surprised if someone comes up and asks you to dance.”

In addition to adding a modicum of elegance, the Montecito Country Club is also spacious enough to accommodate more seating, leading to the special patron tickets being offered this year that include early admission to a private half-hour dance lesson from local teacher Derek Curtis, a free welcome glass of champagne, and premium seating right up against club’s built-in hardwood dance floor, McLeod said. The style of dance will be determined on Friday via a vote of the participants, she said.

Patrons will also get a sneak peak at the items in the silent auction, which features lots of dance classes as well as trips and other goodies.

This year’s exhibition dancers include Joshua Faulkner (salsa), Derek & Trudy Curtis (rumba), David Alvarez & Allison Allen (Viennese Waltz) and others. They’ll do short routines every 30-45 minutes during the evening, McLeod said, just to whet everyone’s appetite.

“This is not a performance event. It’s just a handful of exhibitions, including some surprises. One number,” she added, “and ‘poof,’ they’re gone, and we all get to dance again.”

The idea is to get all the dancers intermingling, trying out new styles and meeting new people, said McLeod, who noted that the event grew out of the backstage party that happened after the BASSH performances.

“Everybody had so much fun, we thought, ‘How can we involve the whole community in this, and raise some funds too?”

McLeod urged potential new Ball-goers not to be afraid to ask anyone, professionals included, for a dance.

“That’s what they’re there for,” she said. “Or if you look all wall-flowery they’ll probably come up and ask you. That’s like an open invitation to us professionals.”

(The Dancers Ball takes place from 8 pm to about midnight on Friday, October 12. Tickets are $45, patron tickets at $300 include admission for 4, VIP table seating and a bottle of champagne. Call 966-6950 or visit